Vision Setting

A Founding Vision: How to Communicate & Act On

All new ventures are based on visions — visions that the world can, and will, behave differently than it does today; that a new product or a new service will change how we interact with the environment ..

Luke Fraser
August 8, 2022

All new ventures are based on visions — visions that the world can, and will, behave differently than it does today; that a new product or a new service will change how we interact with the environment and each other.

Founding visions — and the excitement behind them — are fundamental in a new venture’s success.

Without them, the world will continue to exhibit path dependency; tomorrow will be just a slightly different version of today.

With them, a founding team can generate the required excitement and energy amongst teammates, customers, and investors to introduce an exogenous shock to the world to change the way things are done.

However, there is a dark side to these visions.

They can paralyze founders into inaction — their view of the potential world is so fundamentally different than what exists today that they fail to actually act in bridging that gap.

They also induce a significant amount of unproductive and failed investment into a future world.

Founders are unable to adjust their mental models of what should be that they make imprudent investment decisions into product and technology while ignoring any signals the market is communicating.

VISION PACKING & UNPACKING

What is a founding team to do when faced with these opposing forces of catalysis and paralysis?

At Paper Ventures, we partner with founding teams to facilitate a process called “Vision Packing & Unpacking”, which allows a new venture to benefit from the energy and motivation that a vision provides while making prudent investment decisions that combat inaction and build towards a new world.

This process is effective for your new venture if the following two things are true:

  1. You are building something entirely new to the world
  2. You operate in a resource-constrained environment

If #1 does not hold true for you, this process may not be as useful, but I still encourage you to follow along.

If #2 does not hold true for you, please invite me over for dinner.

If both hold true, here’s how we recommend you proceed:

1. DREAM BIG & BOLD

I almost excluded this as a step — because it’s a prerequisite to being nearly 350 words into this article.

You have a vision. A vision for a product, a service, an experience, an interaction, a process, a platform, or something else that does not exist today. You dream of how your life, the lives of those around you, and the lives of those you still have yet to meet will be different once your new world is actualized.

You think in “What if” statements. You sketch on napkins. You flood your Notes app.

Great. But now it’s time to go bigger and bolder with your thinking. What will people say about your new brand? What products and services will you be launching in fifty years? How much good will you affect on the world? Will you expand to retail? To online? To another country? How many team members will be part of delivering this vision? What does your office space look like in five years? How does AR/VR come into play?

2. MAKE IT TANGIBLE

Most of us stop at the previous step and live a life full of dinner parties talking about these neat ideas we have. In this next step, we take the vision and make it tangible.

No, we don’t actually build the vision here. That’s a quick way to throw out a lot of money. Instead, we figure out a way to transform our mostly-verbal-maybe-PowerPoint-fidelity vision into a medium that communicates the vision better than our words can.

For digital experiences, this might be designing mockups in Sketch and turning them into a clickable Invision prototype. For hardware products, this might be engaging a product designer on Upwork to build a few product designs. For a new service or process, this may mean producing a video that shows the new experience.

This is often a step where founders feel their first bit of vision resistance. But it’s not the real thing. People won’t understand it if it’s not the real thing. How does a video help me out here?

These are real objections. Call them out. Observe them. Then set them aside.

Remind yourself that a bias towards action is the only way you’ll ever create something new in a world that would, frankly, rather stay the same.

Why does this step matter?

People like tangibles. People like things they can touch and feel. People like seeing the future over hearing about.

By building something tangible and visual, you obtain an asset that:

  1. More effectively generates excitement around your vision
  2. Provokes higher fidelity and more useful feedback than you got by blabbing at dinner parties

You now have a tangible asset that more effectively communicates your venture’s vision and generates more excitement for those around you. This also serves as a North Star. It’s where you and your team are going. You may never get there, but it’s where you’re going.

3. BREAK INTO ASSUMPTIONS

Now that you have built your vision and made it tangible, it’s time to step back and confront the following:

If your envisioned product or service is truly new to the world, then we have no real understanding of how it will interact with the world. For your vision to actualize as imagined, a number of assumptions must hold true.

It’s your job to identify those assumptions and validate them.

Imagine my vision involves the following: a financial advice web and native app that connects college students, financial aid offices, and parents. All three of these parties can log in and see the status of their student loans, see offers to reduce interest rates, and ask questions of each other in a secure messaging location. Colleges buy a subscription for this on an annual basis.

For this vision to exist, a number of assumptions would need to hold true, including:

  • College students care enough about this to download and engage with an application
  • This product is solving a college’s pain point so well that they’re willing to pay for this
  • The app can pull in interest rates and loan offers in real time from a variety of sources
  • Parents want to use the messaging service to chat with their children over regular means of communication

The list could go on and on.

What I find helpful is breaking assumptions down into three categories:

  1. Business viability — is there a sustainable business model here?
  2. Technical feasibility — can this actually be built?
  3. User desirability — do people care enough about this to change behavior?

Further, if you have multiple users or other stakeholders in your vision you can split those out into separate lists.

4. DIVIDE INTO PROVEN & UNPROVEN ASSUMPTIONS

Now you have a long list of assumptions that must hold true for your vision to happen. We’ll now want to separate them into:

  1. Already Proven Assumptions: these are assumptions that you can confidently say you’ve seen hold true in the market already. Imagine one of your assumptions is “Millennials will pay with a credit card online”. You can safely put that in the “already proven” category.
  2. Currently Unproven Assumptions: these are assumptions that have not yet been proven by previous market interactions before. You’ll likely have a lot more of these and they will be core to the novelty of your vision.
5. RANK BY VISION CRITICALITY

Next, you’ll want to rank your assumptions by how fundamental they are to your vision holding true.

Or, said differently, which of your assumptions could you not live without? That, if proven to not hold or to not be true, your vision would fundamentally crumble?

In my experience, assumptions and hypotheses around your users’ pain points are often the most fundamental to a vision holding true. Business and technical considerations can often change, but if your users do not have a reason to use your product or service, nothing business or technical matters.

6. BUILD FOR & TEST THE MOST CRUCIAL

Now that you have identified your most fundamental assumption, you should ask yourself the question:

What is the minimum we can build to test this assumption?

Call it an MVP, an MMP, a prototype, an experiment, a “first thing”, or whatever you want to call it.

Your goal is to build something in order to get the feedback you need to feel confident in validating or invalidating an assumption.

If validated, great! Test your next assumption by building upon your first experiment. You’ll soon find yourself testing and building at higher and higher fidelities as your venture evolves. And, hopefully, you’re satisfying your customers and earning revenue along the way.

If invalidated, great! What did you learn? Is there a different pain point or opportunity area that you think is worth testing?

Envisioning a world that doesn’t yet exist, identifying assumptions and hypotheses, and then building just enough to test those hypotheses is what a new venture is all about. Being methodical about what you build will allow you to invest scarce resources properly and show real traction.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luke Fraser

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